MORGANTOWN — There’s no way Neal Brown will look at Saturday night’s 7 p.m. on FOX meeting with Oklahoma in Norman as the most important game he’s ever coached, but it could be.
If the Mountaineers’ performance this season hasn’t convinced athletic director Wren Baker to continue coaching the team, the Sooners’ second straight home win will.
He entered the season with little fan support and faced what appeared to be a difficult schedule with many holes in his lineup.
The program reached such a high point that despite four new teams entering the Big 12, the Mountaineers were ranked 14th and last in the media’s sports poll.
That turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to them.
Brown didn’t use it as a bad thing but as fuel for the fire that burns inside every athlete and refused to let them forget that he became the Rodney Dangerfield of the Big 12. There were reminders that they were the No. and they were thrown before them in the meetings and in the proceedings.
It was not repeated over and over again to diminish them. It was encouraging and challenging them and they took the bait like a hungry bass snapping at the end of a fishing line.
Undaunted by the loss to Penn State that was used as proof of the strength and distance they had to go, the Mountaineers justified themselves against the great rival Pitt, and then thought they were much better than they were, then survived the injuries that took. Their heart comes from their offense for several weeks in quarterback Garrett Green’s sprain.
When he returned healthy to run the offense behind the line that was carefully built in the first four years of Brown’s tenure, and the help of the fast running back, they began to control the ball, make hard mistakes and start to put points on. board.
Had it not been for the Hail Mary win in the Houston game, Oklahoma would have been coming into the game with seven wins and just one loss in the Big 12, tied with Texas and Oklahoma State for the conference lead at 5-1. .
Much credit goes to Brown for not only refusing to accept his team’s preseason advantage count, but continuing to insist like a bulldog pulled on the mailman’s pants, whining furiously and determined to prove his worth.
Even now, with the victory of two games I know that going back to last season the team has won eight of the last 11 games, the 14th selected memorial is described on them.
“That’s what we’re waiting for because until the end of the year we still have confirmation,” Brown said this week as Oklahoma’s preparations are underway.
Although the shame of being Number 14 may be over, the fact of the lack of respect that he had at that time continues.
“It all starts with how people think of us; that’s what they thought at the beginning of the year and we’ve confirmed that this was not correct until the end,” said Brown. “We’re using it as motivation, but it’s the truth. That’s where we were elected. It’s not like we’re sugarcoating that.
“We were picked to finish last and Oklahoma was picked to finish in the top 3 in the Big 12. That’s the way it is.”
Don’t doubt that Oklahoma doesn’t see them as No. 14 in the meeting.
A year ago the Mountaineers scored a 23-20 victory over the Sooners in Morgantown, the first time in Big 12 play that they defeated a conference opponent.
“We have a big challenge this week against West Virginia, who has been playing good football the last few weeks,” Sooners coach Brent Venables said in his weekly press conference.
While the Sooners have lost close decisions to Kansas, 38-33, and Oklahoma State, 27-24, in the past few games and have not survived UCF in the previous game, they remain ranked 17th and are favored to hit twice. home win against WVU.
This, of course, means that Brown is looking for reinforcements and he doesn’t have far to look.
Although they are on a two-game winning streak and have the last conference win over OU in their season, Brown looks only to the Mountaineers final trip to Norman to get the attention of his players.
“We still have a bad taste in our mouths from when we were there,” Brown said. “We were beaten by a goal from the last minute. We felt like we were in control of the game and had a chance to win. Then we turned it over on downs and they won late. That is very encouraging.”
WVU comes into this game with plenty of action, a revival in running back CJ Donaldson and freshman Jaheim White making it a strong 1-2 punch.
In addition, Greene has been successful in his past offense. And while Greene hasn’t been accurate with his throws, he’s become one of the nation’s best deep threats in the nation, ranking fourth in the nation at 15.9 yards per completion.
The defense, which has been up and down, seems to have recently found its groove with safety Aubrey Burks, linebacker Lee Kpogba and cornerback Beanie Bishop leading the way.
Teams have been throwing to Bishop all season and paying the price as the transfer from Minnesota is tops in the nation in passes defensed with 21 and in passes broken up with 17 while his four interceptions rank eighth in the nation.